Sinn Fein is well able, when required, to make decorous speeches about dealing with the legacy of our recent murderous past. Party president Gerry Adams has called for the establishment of an Independent Truth Commission and has said republicans are "very conscious of the hurt and suffering caused through conflict in our country". He said that the commission would have to be conducted in a "sensitive and generous way" and that all victims would have to be regarded as equal.
However, party TD Dessie Ellis was obviously in no mood for such sensitivity when asked by the Irish Independent yesterday to comment on allegations that he had been involved in some 50 murders during that conflict. "I don't want to comment on anything said by the Brits," he said. "I wouldn't be bothered."
Wouldn't be bothered? Is this the sort of language Mr Ellis would use when called to give evidence to the truth commissioners? Is this language which shows respect to those whose hurt and suffering were caused by the IRA and specifically by IRA bombs, which he may have made?
The fundamental problem with Mr Adams' exposition of his party's policy on telling the truth about the past is the fact that he is so obviously telling a brazen lie about his own. Never mind the specifics of what he did or did not do, did or did not sanction. Nobody believes Mr Adams when he says he was never a member of the IRA. It undermines his every attempt at sincerity.
Mr Ellis has, by contrast, stated that he was involved "at the highest levels" of the IRA. It would be wrong to say he admitted this – implying shame – he spoke of it with pride. In 2009, he was honoured at a Dublin Volunteers' Dinner Dance in the Gresham Hotel for his "lifelong contribution to the struggle". That included making bombs, and IRA bombs killed a lot of people, horribly, and maimed many others.
The thing is, all of this was anticipated and accommodated in the Good Friday Agreement. We let the republican and loyalist prisoners out. We had the decommissioning of weapons. We made a new start. Mr Ellis is an elected representative and is now more likely to be found talking about pyrite than about armalite. Those who voted for him in Dublin North West did so knowing that he had an IRA past. The North's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also has such a past and recently shook the hand of the Queen – a leading "Brit", to use Mr Ellis's bigoted old term.
During recent Dail debates on the Budget, the Taoiseach responded to an intervention by Mr Adams by slinging abuse at him about his alleged role in the disappearance of Jean McConville. The Tanaiste likewise cast up IRA killings in response to Mary Lou McDonald's comments about the Health Minister.
This is contemptible and shows no respect whatsoever for the victims of the recent conflict. They deserve better than to be used to deflect attention from the embarrassment of a floundering Government.
These issues still have great potency in the North, and are capable of causing flurries of hypocrisy in the Republic. But for those who were bereaved, many of whom are still desperately seeking some measure of truth and justice, the past is not past at all, it is part of their painful day-to-day lives.
Mr Adams has spoken of "vested interests who do not want the truth". Earlier this month, we saw the outrageous lengths to which the British government has been willing to go to cover up its collusion in murders carried out by loyalist paramilitaries, including that of Pat Finucane.
But there are plenty of indications that Sinn Fein has its own vested interests, its own sense of a hierarchy of victims. Mr Ellis's careless and ugly "I wouldn't be bothered" is the least of it. The party knows it is safe to look for a Truth Commission because the British and Irish governments, for their own murky reasons, have no intentions whatsoever of setting one up.